Tennessee and Clemson met on Saturday night in what was billed as the game of the night in the NCAA Tournament, and boy — they didn’t disappoint. 14 innings and a handful of dramatic twists and turns later, Tennessee somehow came out on top with full control of the Clemson Regional.
The Volunteers now sit just one win away from advancing to the Super Regional round.
“Just appreciative to be part of that thing. It was special for both sides,” Vitello said after the game. “There are a lot of plays you can analyze if you want to. They all make up one crazy game.”
Tennessee was down two runs in the top of the ninth. Two quick outs didn’t leave much hope, but back to back hits kept them breathing. And then Zane Denton — who got down 0-2 in the count — unloaded on one to left. That three-run shot gave Tennessee the lead, if only for a moment. Clemson quickly answered to send us into extras.
“It was reminiscent of some other lineups we had— double digit strikeouts— our guys made sure that they had competitive at-bats and eventually we were saying in the dugout we’re going to get to this guy,” Vitello said. “Again, not many have and that sets the table for Zane to be in a position to do what he did.
“If I’m not mistaken, it’s been a long night, two strikes and he’s been known to take a hack and it was just a good, short to the ball and fight. I think it’s 0-2 and he gets it back to 2-2 and he and I have had a conversation before, and I’m not trying to take any credit, but sometimes as a hitter when you miss your pitch and don’t get to take your A hack you have to reset and he did that and got himself in a position to be in that type of count and then a good short punch.”
The hero of the night might have just been Chase Burns, who took over on the mound in the fifth inning. He pitched well into extra innings, even when it appeared that his tank was empty. Vitello made a couple of bold decisions to stick with him in sticky situations, which was the opposite of the approach that Clemson took.
Burns gave up the tying run in the ninth, but he danced out of a no-outs, bases loaded situation in the tenth to keep Tennessee breathing. In total, Tennessee used just three pitchers on the night, thanks to Burns’ extended performance.
“To be honest with you we had a conversation before the game, I was just waiting for, it was his game,” Vitello said of Burns. “It was going to be the combination of two guys that are first rounders (and) that are going to have lengthy careers in the big leagues not just because of their stuff but how they go about their business. That was what we thought of as our best punch and we were going to start Halvy later in the deal if we needed to. Obviously we didn’t fall off with his stuff.
“Just expected him to come to me and when he did he said to get Halvy hot but I can get the team a few more outs. Again, Halvy was pretty sharp but to me the difference might have been, in the entire game, those extra outs when we were wanting to take him out and then a couple extra too when you (Chase) refuse to leave the game.”
Tennessee sends Clemson into an elimination game this afternoon against Charlotte. The Volunteers will get the winner, and can punch their ticket to the next round with a simple win. Let’s hope it’s a little more simple than last night.